It wouldn’t be back-to-school season without a flurry of back-to-school photos with smiling children holding chalkboard signs. But before you post those adorable photos of your kids to social media, there are a few things to keep in mind. A viral TikTok is reminding parents to be careful about what they include in those cute chalkboard signs.
“If it just says first day, that’s not terrible,” TikToker Cathy Pedrayes, a cybersecurity professional, says in the video. But photos that include the child’s favorite activities, teacher’s name, names on backpacks, house numbers, license plates, and school name can create safety risks, Pedrayes told TODAY.
Pedrayes' warning is echoed by law enforcement officers and cybersecurity experts as well. According to The Child Crime Prevention and Safety Center, there are an estimated 500,000 online child predators active each day. Predators can use this information as way to launch an online relationship with children. And personal information can pose a cybersecurity risk for data mining by potential hackers.
"[I]t is not your child’s precious face that’s the problem, it’s what is behind them," Joe Miller, Chief of Police at the Palos Park Police Department, told NBC Chicago. "Things like your house number, what your house looks like, your street name, your car, license plate number or even where you child catches the school bus could be clues those unsavory characters use against you."
Among the things experts say NOT to include in photos you post on social media:
- The name of your child’s school
- The age of your child
- The teacher’s name and grade
- Identifying features of the child, such as their height and weight
- Overly personal information, such as child’s favorite color or book
"We all know parents only do things that are best for their kids. They don’t post something to harm the child, it’s the other people that grab that data. The other part of the data mining that goes on and a lot of people like to take that information and sell it," cybersecurity contractor Stanton Greenawalt told WPDE, an ABC affiliate.
These warnings follow in the heels of the Wren Eleanor controversy, which shined a light on the risks of sharing photos of our kids on social media. Wren Eleanor is a toddler with her own TikTok account containing videos of the toddler doing toddler things, like wearing cute clothes and eating snacks. Boasting a whopping 17 million followers, Wren Eleanor is also an “influencer” account, with the tiny tot and her mom showing off clothing gifted to them by fashion retailers.
Parents began sharing concerns over the account when they noticed certain videos and photos of Wren Eleanor had been saved tens of thousands of times by complete strangers and that comments by grown men were often sexual and predatory in nature. Concerns prompted parents to launch a #SaveWren movement and motivated many parents to take their children’s photos off social media or make their accounts private.
It's also important to respect your child’s wishes if they don’t want photos shared on social media, even if your account is private and there isn’t any risky information included in the photo. And if your child is old enough to be on social media, talk to them about the risks as well.
Bottom line: Celebrate going back to school with cute photos, but be careful. Pause a minute before sharing, and consider whether to share the photo on social media at all. If you do, make sure it doesn’t include personal information about your child or your family.
"People in general don't realize how much they overshare on social media," Pedrayes told TODAY Parents.